Errors & Omissions: Technology marches on, but it snatches the odd word along the way


"A 1962 photograph of Marilyn Monroe ... by the US photographer George Barris is estimated to sell for"

Thus ended a news-in-brief item on Tuesday. I haven't seen that for ages. It is maddening for readers. I thought we had got over it. Stories that end like that, without the last line, are an example of technological regression.

In the days when dinosaurs walked the earth, newspaper pages were put together in metal type by a man (yes, always a man) called a stonehand. The process was staggeringly expensive, but at least intimate human contact with every detail prevented stories from ending in the air. Then, about 30 years ago, came a process called Atex. Pages were made up by journalists on primitive computer screens – black with green luminous letters. It drove you insane but at least it wouldn't output a page unless all the words fitted properly in the spaces allotted to them.

Finally, about 20 years ago, we got Windows and a magical software application called QuarkXPress which does the job in a way reasonably suited to the human brain, but allows you, alas, to send pages with too much kit in the text boxes. And it has a little brother called QuarkCopyDesk that allows one person to work on the text of any particular story while another works on the page layout. And if there is the slightest discrepancy between the formats they are using, it is possible for the words to fit into the text box on CopyDesk, but be a line over on the page layout. And that last line will not print in the newspaper.

Thus human fallibility can defeat any system, and the only answer is human vigilance in checking the bottom of each box before you send the page. As I say, I thought we had got that one licked.



Homophone horror: An arts page piece on Monday commented on the Royal Academy's current exhibition of Watteau drawings: "It was a form which he pursued with as much invention and even greater flare than his paintings."

That should be "flair". These are a couple of rather weird words, quite apart from being pronounced the same, so it is no wonder that people confuse them. "Flair" comes down from Latin by way of Old French. A very distant cousin of "fragrance", it means a scent, hence a power of discernment, and finally an innate instinctive ability. "Flare" pops up from nowhere in the 16th century, origin unknown, meaning a flickering or spreading flame. Later, it comes to apply to anything that spreads out, including the absurd trousers whose popularity in the 1970s scars the memory of anybody over the age of 50.



Atlantic swell: This column does not get sniffy about "Americanisms". The American version of the English language is just as good as the British, if not better – and our tool box of metaphors would be much the poorer without bandwagons, filibusters and many other colourful North American images. But at the same time, a British newspaper should be written in British English, and it is easy for globetrotting foreign correspondents to fall into mid-Atlantic habits. Jan Cook writes in to draw attention to the following, from our Japanese coverage on Thursday: "With lines for food stretching six city blocks ... people in the region are struggling with shortages."

In this country we form queues, not lines. And our cities (except for Glasgow) are not laid out in those rigid grid patterns that allow the "block" to be a unit of measurement. How far is "six city blocks"? A quarter of a mile? Half? I've really no idea.



Wrong way round: "It has been a week of military reversals for the rebels," opined an introductory blurb on a news story about Libya last Saturday. A reversal means turning round or going backwards; the rebels had not done that. What had happened was that they had suffered some checks. Not outright defeats, perhaps, but the Gaddafi forces had thwarted their plans and generally got the better of things. The rebels had suffered reverses.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests